State’s Football Program Missed The Boat In 2003
This morning on the drive into work, Mark and Mike on 620 The Buzz were talking about the Heisman promotional campaign FSU is undertaking on behalf of their quarterback Christian Ponder.
I think it’s great. I don’t think Ponder will win unless a LOT falls right for the Seminoles, but these campaigns are rarely about whether a player stands a good chance to win or not. It’s all about marketing.
Florida State doesn’t need a lot of help marketing its football program. Despite the Seminoles coming back down to earth from their glory days of the 90’s, many folks still view FSU as one of the premier names in college football.
Nevertheless, the folks in Tallahassee aren’t resting on their laurels–they’re leveraging Ponder to get the FSU name back in front of as many eyeballs locally and nationally as possible. They’ve created a slick, interactive website highlighting Ponder’s candidacy and handed out–per Mark and Mike–leather-bound notepads at ACC Kickoff with “CP7” embossed on the cover.
FSU’s marketing team should be applauded. There’s a school that recognizes the marketing value of a Heisman hopeful. If Ponder performs like a Heisman candidate, i.e. the best quarterback in the country, and leads the ‘Noles to a 1- or 2-loss season, the campaign might actually help Ponder climb a spot or two in the voting. But whether Ponder gets an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club or not, the true benefit of the campaign–marketing FSU–will have already been realized.
Kudos to them. I wish I could say the same thing for my alma mater.
N.C. State’s football program carries none of the cache Florida State’s does. It NEEDS all the marketing opportunities it can get. In 2003, a golden one presented itself to our school’s leadership and instead of seizing it, they passed it up.
Philip Rivers, through his first three years, had already begun to make a name for himself nationally when the 2003 arrived. At the end of the 2002 season, the Pack finished with 11 wins and a top-15 ranking, and N.C. State’s football program was beginning to make some noise on the college football scene. 2003 was shaping up to be a banner year for Rivers and for State football, and Rivers entered the season a bona fide Heisman candidate. All State’s football program needed to keep the ball rolling downhill was some more positive momentum; folks across the country would start looking at State football as a real up-and-comer with potential staying power.
Our athletic department, however, missed the boat. Philip was lightly promoted by State as a Heisman hopeful. Yeah, I’m sure the department sent out some trinkets to media folks…maybe a refrigerator magnet or two, or perhaps a highlight DVD. But when you contrast that effort to what the University of Oregon did for Joey Harrington in 2001–a BUILDING-sized billboard draped in Times Square–it pales in comparison.
Harrington’s billboard touted him as “Joey Heisman.” It not only created a lot of buzz for Harrington (who would finish 4th in the Heisman voting that year), it also created a lot of buzz for the Oregon football program.
Ask yourself as one who likely lives here in NC or on the East Coast–how many times had you thought of Oregon football prior to that billboard campaign? If you’re like me, the answer is zero.
But the billboard BECAME the story. It was THERE. You couldn’t miss it. Oregon made sure to place in THE place for Big Boy Marketing, Times Square. It was flawless execution on Oregon’s part.
Granted, Oregon’s financial resources, i.e. Phil Knight, more than dwarf that at State. But if State was SERIOUS about taking that next step into the “big kids pool”–like Chick Amato talked about when he was hired–Rivers provided THE perfect means to do so. The school should’ve leveraged his star power into promoting the program, and an all-out Heisman campaign should’ve been the way to do it.
Gosh, imagine if Rivers had played at Oregon. Do they make billboards the size of the Empire State Building?
Further, setting marketing aside for a moment, we owed it to Rivers to make that type of effort. Forget what the final Heisman ballots showed–I have no doubt in my mind that Rivers was the best quarterback in the country that year. None. His stats that year are astounding. Rivers threw for more touchdowns in 2003 than Ponder has so far in three seasons (34 vs. 29). He led the country in passer rating (170.5) and yards-per-attempt (9.29), a metric of gauging how effective a quarterback is every time he drops back to pass. He only threw seven interceptions in 483 attempts, completed 72% of his passes and finished second to BJ Symons of pass-happy Texas Tech for total yardage thrown (4491).
All that, and yet he didn’t receive an invite to NYC; he finished seventh, behind three other QBs. Interestingly, he finished with 18 first-place votes, fifth-most and more than Darren Sproles and Matt Leinhart who finished ahead of him. What does that tell you? Philip was known locally, not nationally. Those who saw him play KNEW how good he was; plenty of folks elsewhere across the country had no idea.
Want to know Harrington’s line when he finished fourth in the voting in 2001, for comparison sake? 23 TDs,58% comp., 2415 yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 5 INT/322 attempts. Harrington got an invite to NY.
I can think of no good reason Philip wasn’t sitting on one of those Downtown Athletic Club stools in 2003, other than the piss-poor job State did marketing him. By proxy, N.C. State football would’ve been on display for the nation to see. How much value, in advertising dollars, would it have been worth to State for that hour Rivers would’ve been on stage, showing his highlight package, interviewing him? A million dollars? Two million, maybe three?
Jason White and Eli Manning, both QBs, were there that night and if you want to make yourself sick, compare Philip’s stats with theirs (or Matt Leinhart’s). Philip deserved to be up there, and I believe he would have if State’s marketing would’ve done a better job.
I know most of you are probably tired of hearing the term “marketing” by now. It was a focal concept during State’s AD search, but it should have been. There’re just too many media outlets vying for 21st Century-savvy consumers. ESPN, the internet, sports talk radio–yes, even newspapers (for now). A football program like State’s CANNOT wait for fans and media to come to it. They have to go out and do the legwork of self-promotion crucial to building a successful, viable brand. Minus wins, there aren’t many aspects of a football program that can be leveraged to market on a national level, but a legitimate Heisman hopeful like Rivers most certainly is.
Florida State’s doing their part to maintain their brand. It’s a shame we didn’t do our part back in 2003 to build it when we had the chance.